Monday, November 22, 2010

406. Air Lady

You go you lovely lonely lady
walking in your socks
two dry martinis at cock crow
and then the whole world rocks

you shaved your gorgeous locks
you use no makeup on your face
of all your feminine tricks
today there is no trace

white on white is the room you pace
panther-like, absurdly happy
the world calls on your intercom
say what you want but make it snappy!

The female dasein is soft and sappy:
you could see that, young, obscure.
I'll make this damn world pay for me
of that you can be sure.


Men! Their sickly syrup of desire
was never made for wedded bliss:
geisha. heitari, grand courtesans
from early days taught you this.

Now there is the yawning abyss
to conjure with, Monsieur or Madame Death,
here in a white room, with a white poodle,
disconnected, alone, a single breath

away from life's perfection.
A living male erection
from time to time is required:
one call can do it all.

One puts on a wig, applies lipstick, eye-shadow,
revels in a garter-belt, sheer sexy stockings
and in half an hour it's all over.
No money ever changes hands,
no names, never never the same young man,
so very discreet, so professional,
so very satisfactory! The porter,
some man called Jim or John or Alfonso
(as if I care) handles everything
beautifully, the groceries are always on time,
and his large Christmas tip is assured.

Been living here for the last ten years
safely cocooned on the 45th floor.
A Luftmenschin, I shall never come down.
Why should I any more?

Luftmensch (pre-Nazi Yiddish: an air-person, someone who has no visible means of support). In this case it has a very different New York sort of meaning. There are people who literally don't come down to street level from their high-level apartments for weeks and months at a time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

405. Ulaidh (Ulster) 1601

We were called to the gathering
at the hill of Tullahogue, shop-keepers
and middle-aged people of the town, idlers,
old women, children, for all the young men
had gone south with O’Neill.

There was to be a great battle.

Tullahogue with its ancient stone
is a great green valley in a dip of the woods;
we settled in, murmuring, hushing the children,
among the whispering waving trees,
we, the People of Tír Eoghain.

There were three Engish prisoners
and they were brought before us.
A rustling of sounds arose among us
for we did not like them. But then
the Sherriff of the Town, didn’t he

stand up on his legs, waving a cleaver,
and call for the butcher, McCaughlan,
who came up to the stand, by God,
stripped to the waist and the sweat
rolling off his heaving muscularity.

I knew what was going to happen
and I covered the eyes of Síle, my daughter,
and I asked my wife to turn her head away
and she said No. She said no, I want
to see the fuckin bastards killed.

The mother of my children, an O’Cahan
whose brother fell in the battles last year
when I was in my dreary little shop
scraping together the pennies to keep us alive.
God, how she despises me!

The Englishman is young, he shivers,
but not from the cold, he wants to be brave.
The butcher plays to the crowd, he pretends
to swipe, then strikes, a great gout of blood,
and the young men roar and cheer.

Why are they not with O’Neill in the South?

I catch a glimpse from my neighbour
and I can see he is thinking the same.
He has his son clasped tightly within his cloak
and as our eyes glance off one another, he sees
my woman forcing my children to watch.

Nothing good can come of this.

The second and third prisoner are likewise dispatched
but the cheers grow thin. We know. We know
that the English will come and do the same to us,
to my sweet little daughter, to my infant son. My wife
shines with a look of fiery grandeur. She has no idea.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

404. panta rhei

Ettore Schwartz, Triestine, inveterate smoker,
smiles contentedly, snuggles into the couch
and analyses himself, at odds with the expensive
acolyte of Adler who sits, seriously, out of sight,
just there behind his head. This is rather nice,
thinks Italo Svevo, for this is the name he employs
when he writes his excellent unappreciated novels.
I really must have a word with my English teacher
muses Ettore Svevo, and so thinks Italo Schwartz,
as both, acting as one, reach for the next cigarette.

I cannot imagine what was going through Benjamin’s mind
there on the dusty platform, surrounded by yellow hills,
in one of those dreary arse-end towns (I’ve been through it)
every country seems to have. This is worse than most,
also, not helpfully, in Spain. Might as well be Chihuahua,
with the same hayseed police, smelling of wine and garlic,
mostly of themselves. Like mongrel dogs they smell your fear.
But suicide? Sorry, my dear, you gave up too easily.

Franz Josef was a thick-headed limited old brute
but not the worst of the emperors by any means.
Nobody thinks or even cares of this crusty old character
who went through so much personal heartache, who can
actually know what went through his dreams at night?
His wife, one of the most beautiful women in Europe,
was flighty, horse-mad, and refused to sleep with him,
his only son and heir shot himself with a 17-year-old girl,
and the Hungarians and Czechs never left off badgering.
Then Franz Ferdinand, whom he never liked, got himself shot
and the whole ramshackle Empire blundered into War.
At least, poor dodderer, you never lived to see the end.

Simple advice; when a young girl offers you adoring blowjobs
and you are a middle-aged man, married, and also happen to be
the President of the United States, you should reach deep
into yourself, balancing the pleasure against the consequences,
and say, Why not? You never know when you’ll get the chance again.

I met Bob in Hawai’i when I was driving a taxi for Charley’s.
He was new, I’d been around, I was set up as his Driver Supervisor…

Stauffenberg should have made sure, staying behind
until the final moment of detonation, sacrificing himself
and not racing back to Berlin. I do not question his courage,
which had already been proven, only his judgment, his thinking.
Room was needed, the briefcase moved, and Hitler lived.
I wonder what really would have happened: perhaps not much.
The real heroes, or victims, were Hans and Sophie Scholl.

The first thing, Bob, is you’ve got to stop drinking and driving.
OK, boss. Next thing is don’t lock the doors, let them get out before
they pay. What if they don’t pay? Bob, if I was your customer,
I would definitely pay. Everyone in the company looked askance
at Mad Bob, everyone but me, maybe because he called me boss,
and did some of the things I told him. Some of the things.
Bob had had a bit of a … chequered record in Vietnam.

O turn aside and no more weep
Upon love’s bitter mystery …
Fergus rules the burning cars.

You never loved me. At night, darling, in the darkness,
You would allow me to hover enter it in, you would
grunt and shift your hips, sustaining an angry passing joy,
and then you’d race, sticky from me, to the bathroom.
I lay behind you, dazed, exhausted, thinking this girl
wants to marry me, and if she does, her burst of spread-your-legs
will come to an abrupt skidding end. I could foresee
years of tightened lips and frowns, blanket disapproval,
and while thinking on these things, a monkey came through
the window, scared the bloody hell out of you. He was a young
hungry chappie and I laughed. You carried on so loud I knew
for sure I would never marry you. Tight body and tits to die for,
but downturning lips and that glint in your eye. No thanks.
I need a relaxed little girl, a good cook, ready with a smile.

Bob started to tell me his weird jungle stories
so I sent him out into to the bright lights of the city
which was a mistake: the garish night-scenes of Honolulu,
where the Mahu boys down on Hotel Street, bored and horny,
would fling themselves, baritone, at your crotch,
and you’d hear the polite pop-pop of handguns, soft sounds off,
as people settled their economic and personal differences.
At four in the morning you’d steer around the bodies,
most still alive, lying still, with pale goose-pimpled thighs
under a lightening sky of pale pink and streaks of purple,
and you’d take the dregs of the battered drunk young sailors
to their grey steel ships, bobbing bobbing in Pearl Harbor.

When she was young, you know, she was a tremendous beauty,
the toast of Edwardian London, Hove and the Isle of Wight.
It’s said that the Old King came out and saw her one morning
and brightened up considerably, asked her in for a spot of tea,
and said, My Word, what a sight for sore eyes, etcetera,
that kind of thing, and died, coughing, not very long after.
She preened and pushed out her chest, not inconsiderable
even then, fluttered her lashes over deep violet eyes, behaved
like the stupid bitch she has been ever since. In Wimbledon
in the late fifties, her garden  adjoined the dank collapsing
collection of bricks my immigrant poor young parents were renting
from the dying Mr Bannerjee, and she would appear fully dressed
with a damn parrot on her thin left shoulder and say (to me),
Kindly desist from making those distressing noises, as I refought
the Battle of Britain with plastic Spitfires and Messerschmitts,
and the sky was white or grey, with a menacing hint of rain. 

Theo had been to Poland, France and Russia with the victorious
Wehrmacht and reckoned it had been pretty good, except. of course,
for the last bit, freezing his balls off in Khaboroshtny, Khonovreshnyev,
something anyway with a fuckin Kh. Bernd (they all called me Bernd)
then I know we lose the war. Fuck Hitler, says Theo. One good thing,
in the Army you never must listen to the verdammte Propaganda.
But in the Rheinland, 1923, I was young boy maybe seven or eight
und die Gebrueder Meerschlag haben mich wie ein junges Maedchen
gedresst mit tennis balls als tits, eine Bluse und skirt, ja, langes Haare
mit ein Wig, dann in the Park hineingeschleppt, und die verdammte
French Negertruppe an mir gekommen sind, Hallo, hallo! Kommen
die Bruder from out die Buschen mit knives from butcher und machen
die Neger zick-zack kaput! Blut! Everywhere blut, blut! They say go, go!
I run. I laugh, ha ha. War not so good. In the beginning, champagne.
In the end, no wine, no beer. Only piss, ja, piss and dirty water.

Theo grins sardonically. Theo is my pal.
Bob is also sort of a pal but he worries me.
Mr Bloom is a thoughtful Jew, miles and miles from Trieste,
nestled, unsettled, under the gaze of doddery old Franz Josef:
K.u.K, Kaiserlich und Koeniglich, Coocoo, Kakka.
The world turns. On its axis. Not much choice.

At dinner parties, journalists back from war zones are occasionally asked what it was really like. Perhaps the most accurate answer would be to rape the hostess, murder the host, cut the children’s throats and set fire to the house, without any further explanation.

On his deathbed, Ettore calls for another cigarette.
This, he thinks, will really be the last one. The Last Time,
I don’t know. Benjamin thinks of the best way to die.
Stauffenberg, his mind ticking, looks down from a cracked
airplane window, sees the damp fields of Germany mutely yearning,
helplessly spread below. Soon I’ll be in Berlin. Soon we’ll all be
in Berlin, more a metaphor than a city. I was going to speak about
Bob and Honolulu. Bob arrived from Saigon as it was known then
after three years in Leavenworth, one of those maximum security
prisons where God-fearing white Americans send  unruly minorities
to moulder,  to grow old and crazy, die. Seems Bob had shot and killed
his Platoon Sergeant, some redneck hillbilly with a drinking problem,
stitched him across the chest, brrrppp, brrrrpp, brppp, oops, dead,
and said, I’m gettin the fuck outta here. They called it in on the radio
before the Cong wiped them out, every single last little lonely one,
and that was the end of Bob’s platoon. Bob, who was large and loony,
hijacked some poor (God-fearing) little chaplain in a jeep, rattled
his brains, and turned up with his papers at Tan Son Nhut, the airport.
First they sent him to Leavenworth and then they sent him to me.

I fell in love with Molokai. I used to go there once or twice a year
just to get away from the nyah-nyah shite of Honolulu.
There were no hotels, no cranky tourists, no grinning Japanese,
only ill-dressed locals in battered pickup trucks, a third of whom
were gay, gently fondling your balls (chug-chug went the motor),
softly sighing as the message of polite rejection sank slowly in.
They would bring pakololo to your campsite, bottles, slyly chide you.

In life you meet all sorts. Life, people, ding-ding, all that shite.
Bob was doing great until he murdered one of his passengers.
It was the night shift, I reckon the fucker deserved it, you’d almost
not want to drive on nights of the full moon, whatever people say,
the loonies would come out in squadrons. Some sweet little girlie
cracked my mate Jimmy’s head with a hammer, fractured his skull,
he’s never been the same since, tho’ not scintillating to start with.
War zone. That’s how, dear friends, I paid for my Masters degree.
The PLO, come to think of it, were doe-eyed lovely young men,
not a bit like the tattooed hard chaws in the well-trained Provies,
offhand little ‘do’s’ with both sets reduced me to trembling jelly.
I was never really a soldier, more like a civilian in uniform,
and I don’t like getting shot at. Sorry. Could be a personal thing.
One of those bullets smacks home and no more poems. I know.
I can see that hopeful glimmer in your eye.  Patience, please.
There’s always traffic accidents.

Ettore got banged up in a traffic accident, around 1927 or 37,
not great with the dates: his old pal JJ had helped to make him famous
in France, followed by the furiously blushing snobberie of literary Italy,
and he died in bed, which is generally a good thing, longing for the last,
that very last and final cigarette. Ah, such bliss (puff) to be alive ….

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

403. America Votes -- Don'cha Love It?

Midterm elections today with the Republicans reckoned to win control of the House -- they need something like 39 new seats and are thought to be heading for 50 or more. Only 37 seats up for grabs in the Senate where it's less likely the Republicans will reach a majority -- less likely but not impossible.

Midterms are generally a reaction against the President elected two years previously. Americans are impatient people and when the Mr Fixit elected in a glorious wreath of promises and declarations finds reality a tougher nut to crack, the American public duly turns against him. There never has been a her, not yet, and probably not for some time to come. Strange that other countries around the world, backward by definition, have already managed female presidents and prime ministers, but we obviously don't want to go there right now: don't want to be accused of 'America-bashing' which covers just about every damn thing any foreigner says about America that falls short of drooling praise. Not now.

Two of the things highlighted in this election round have been the enormous costs, apparently the highest ever (interesting, when one considers that the abyssmal state of the economy has been one of the main issues) and the prevalence of attack ads in which candidates, straining at the leash, fall slightly short of calling their enemies (sorry, opponents) sad camel-humping degenerate blobs of slime beneath their shoes, with some off-the-wall comments on witchcraft and ... was that some brand of after-shave? Terrible, terrible, but nothing new as Clancy Sigal reports below:

To refresh our memories: In 1800 John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, once warm friends, tore each other apart because President Adams found himself running against candidate Jefferson.  Adams’s hacks called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived…son of a half-breed Indian squaw sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”   (Race mattered even then.)  Jefferson’s PR man, a proto-Karl Rove, slammed Adams as a “repulsive pedant” and “hideous hermaphroditical character.”  That’s before the mud slinging got really ugly, Tom labeling John as a hypocrite, criminal and tyrant anxious to drag us into war with France and John calling Tom a sex-mad atheist and coward. 

Mud stuck, and Tom stole – er, won – the election.   A few years later John Quincy Adams was called a pimp, and Andrew Jackson’s wife a slut and his mother a Negro-loving prostitute.  Davy Crockett accused Martin van Buren of wearing women’s corsets.  Of course Abe Lincoln was for slave-loving Democrats the “gorilla tyrant” – and he had stinky feet too.  In the 1884 elections Republicans accused nominee Grover Cleveland of fathering and abandoning an illegitimate child with the party slogan “Ma, ma, where’s my pa?”.  (And when Cleveland won the presidency the Democrats paid back with, “In the White House, ha ha ha!”)

Closer to modern times, Teddy Roosevelt running against obese William Howard Taft called him “a rat in a corner”, and William McKinley’s supporters tagged candidate William Jennings Bryan a crazy degenerate.  In my time, President Roosevelt was compared unfavorably to Hitler, had committed “the crime of the century” by giving Federal money to the jobless, was a demented paralytic cripple and probably Jewish (“Rosenfelt” was a common slur) and had a lesbian wife.   It follows that Jack Kennedy had to be the Pope’s captive, Barry Goldwater a dangerously psychotic warmonger, thrice-wounded Lt.John Kerry ‘swiftboated’ as a cowardly liar, and in the 2000 presidential primaries John McCain effectively lost the nomination when South Carolinians were leafleted that he had fathered an illegitimate black baby.
I confess to loving that "In the White House, ha ha ha!".

Are US midterm elections important in any way? Sure. They generally change the balance of power in the ornery, self-seeking, and very hard-to-handle legislative branch of government, usually to the detriment of the reigning President. Does this have international repercussions? Duh ... do bears hunt around for Portakabins? Does the Pope hang with Hare Krishna? When America sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold; part of it come down with double-pneumonia when this or that program gets delayed, diluted or simply slashed or mashed. Do these voters and all these candidates in their hundreds of constituencies and havens of local concern know or even care? Course not. It's just too much to hold in people's brains which have about a 500 cc capacity to start with. Hell, what's that in ounces?

The really dangerous thing is that policy-making loses continuity, stutters, bends to the winds of political change. The Chinese don't have to worry about that. Democracy is not just an excuse for everyone to argue and fight and shout others down. It's a system of government based on the idea that power derives from the people and not from a traditional sheltered elite, although there is this tendency among the rich and well-connected in all nations. A democratic nation depends on the wisdom and common sense of its collective citizenry. A totalitarian nation doesn't have to: it just tells people what to do, or else. When the two systems come in conflict there is an initial advantage to the powers run by central rule. This goes back to the Greeks and Persians. Hitler revived the Asiatic ideal in the very heart of Europe, as did Stalin in Russia. The real history of the Second World War is how these two conflicting political empires tore each other apart like snarling wolves. The British "won" by holding out in their island fortress in 1940-41 and waiting for America to come to its aid. America, dilatory as usual, hung around for a few years and came in to bomb Germany and apply the coup de grace in the Normandy invasion, when the war had already been lost by the Germans in the East. This is not the history you learn in school but this is what actually happened. The German Wehrmacht was broken on the Eastern Front where they took 8 out of 10 of their total casualties. The Russians lost millions, not only soldiers but civilians.

The subsequent Cold War between the US and USSR changed the whole way of thinking about how Nazi Germany had really been defeated. Just look at the movies, the comics, the TV shows, every damn thing. Of all the nations involved the United States suffered the least. I'm talking in terms of comparison with other nations. The US had military casualties, many, but far fewer than other combatant nations and hardly any civilian casualties to speak of. Their homeland was never under threat. They were never bombed or invaded. There were no refugees on the roads. The country went on pretty much as normal, as it had during all its wars since the last real war on its own territory which was the Civil War of 1861-65. Every war since then has been in other countries which provides us with the "F" in the VFW cap badge. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. No way! From any point of view it was a damn good thing. Who needs burning cities, dead children, concentration camps?

The distance from the real horror of war -- the stinks and the smells, the collapsed rubble of towns, the bloated bodies of humans and animals scattered all over -- has inoculated this country in a way to the decline of respect for the military in Europe. Europe, having seen two devastating wars in the 20th century, wants no further part of militarism. All the pomp of the Kaiser and his goose-stepping armies, not to mention Hitler with his tens of thousands of troops in steel helmets at mass Party rallies, is a thing nobody ever wants to see again. We all know what happened. No, thank you! Military officers do not wear uniform in public in European countries and the enlisted men would never even consider it. Conscription does still exist in some countries (the most effective of all is in Switzerland, probably the most historically belligerent country in Europe, but that is a strange Minute-Man story all of its own) and the general status of professional military people is low. Been there, done it, never again, is the public attitude.

The public attitude in America remains totally different. The military hold a position of respect. It's OK to wear your uniform in public. No politician would ever dare criticize the military (have you ever heard one doing so?) The military are as American as Mom and apple pie. Why? Because, I would suggest, the civilian population of the US  has never had to live through any of its wars since 1865. They haven't actually seen or experienced what war is actually like. It's all movies and TV and computer games. Sure, the military went through a bad patch during and after Vietnam -- but that was far away and overseas. Some poor returning GIs, survivors, got spat upon by ignorant anti-war activists, and I call them ignorant for the good and simple reason that they were spitting on the wrong people. But memories are short. The hippie chicks of the 60s are, many of them, roly-poly grandmothers -- with a little stash of weed on the side. Vietnam might as well be a million years ago.

If there was an active national memory (take Germany, for example, or even Japan) there would be no rush on the part of any young men to engage in a new war. If you don't know what war really is, how destructive it can be, and if it doesn't affect your own home and community, it can become a false test of manhood. God Bless You, Son ... Defend the Flag! The Hemingway, the John Wayne mystique: once people read books, later they learned about life from movies. Ironically, a great deal of this nationalist fog derives from Germans such as Fichte and Schelling, Schopenhauer and poor bloody Nietzsche. The whole neo-Prussian ideal under Bismarck (partially effective) and the wild-eyed revival under the (eventually self-destructive) Nazis came from these airy-fairy philosophical sources extolling the supremacy of the nation-state . Mystical, unquestioned nationalism. But that's OK. Only foreigners are nationalists. Americans are patriots.

This is where I remind you about China. It's huge. Every fifth person on the planet is Chinese. I was in Peking (Beijing) last July-August and the young people there were open and friendly but blame their unhappiness (not enough goddam money) not on their own government but on the Japanese. Huh? They are incredibly nationalistic, or should that be patriotic? Since I was there these young people have been out on huge anti-Japanese demonstrations (late September) and all the violence and noise comes across as an "allowed" diversion policy orchestrated by the government. You'd have to be really dumb to forget Tian-An-Men Square in '89.

If the people are unhappy, wrote Machiavelli back in the 1200s, the Prince must direct their rage on outsiders. Over the centuries, this paleo-con policy still seems to work. The Chinese seem to use it effectively, and so do some American politicians when their target is immigrants, possibly the hardest-working people in the country. Always target the outsider. If you trawl through the oral histories of any immigrant group into the US from the Famine Irish of the 1840s to the Boat People Vietnamese of the 1970s you'll find the same sad story of intense local hostility. The Negroes, now elevated to the title of Afro-Americans, have been living this story for, what, nearly 400 years?

But this election doesn't really seem to be about foreign policy  does it? The economy, unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, the Mexican Border (if that works, what's to stop the Canadians building a fence to keep the Yanks out?),  environmental protection, health care, one hears about all these things but very little about the two wars that are smouldering (Iraq) and intensifying (Afghanistan), in the latter country to the point of possible defeat. Even Lord Petraeus admits the US can't defeat the Taliban according to Woodward's recent book on Obama's War. The best plan is, apparently, to separate them from Al Quaida and go after AQ in Pakistan instead. Sure, guys, run into nuclear military-run Pakistan, presently funding the Taliban through unacknowledged elements of ISI, their military intelligence branch, while the government is also engaged in a proxy war with nuclear India using militants in Kashmir and (very secretly) arranging the terrorist attack on Mumbai.

Simple. Americans are can-do people. We make plans.
Right. Well, that's OK, then.

The British were facing more or less the same problems with the unruly Afghans back in 1897 when a young junior officer, some uppity pudgy little chap , wrote a book about it called 'The Malakand Field Force'. His name was ... em ... Winston ... Winston Spencer Something.